Security fears as Turkish military offensive clouds football clash with France

Saint-Denis (France) (AFP) –


Police reinforcements were drafted in Monday amid fears of violence at France's Euro 2020 qualifier against Turkey, a match overshadowed by diplomatic and security tensions after Paris condemned Ankara for its military offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria.

The game at the Stade de France comes as the operation in northern Syria exacerbates strains with Europe and prompts large protests by Kurds, including in France.

French President Emmanuel Macron called Sunday for an end to the offensive, saying Turkey's actions risked creating "an unbearable humanitarian situation".

France coach Didier Deschamps and his Turkish counterpart Senol Gunes have urged the focus to be on football and not politics.

But in a sign of the tensions, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Monday scrapped plans to attend the match.

"The minister had been due to attend but he decided not to go," a source close to Le Drian said, without giving further details.

Police are planning a reinforced security presence at the game amid fears that while around 3,800 Turkish fans will attend in the area reserved for away fans among the 78,000 spectators, many more are thought to have obtained tickets elsewhere in the stadium.

"We have heard that 40,000 (Turkish) supporters will be there... I think it'll be like a home match," Cagri Devran of Turkish sports daily Fanatik told AFP.

As well as the risk of possible protests inside and outside the stadium, the conduct of the players will also be under close scrutiny.

European football's governing body UEFA, which prohibits references to politics on the pitch, has said it will examine reports that Turkish players performed a military salute in their Euro 2020 qualifier against Albania in Istanbul on Friday as they celebrated of Cenk Tosun's last-gasp winning goal.

After that match, a photo was also posted on the national team's official Twitter account with players making a military salute and a caption saying the players "have dedicated their victory to our brave soldiers and fellow martyrs".

- Calls for game to be postponed -

Some French conservative politicians have called for the game to be called off.

"Football should not serve as (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan's propaganda," said Jordan Bardella, the deputy head of the far-right National Rally (RN).

"It is unthinkable that the Turkish players do the military salute on our soil or that the Marseillaise be whistled over tonight," he wrote on Twitter.

An MP for the right-wing Republicans (LR) party Eric Ciotti said the game should be postponed "for reasons of security given the tensions that exist."

The match has added sporting significance as well -- and not just because if France win, they will qualify for next year's finals.

France were deeply unhappy when Turkish supporters whistled over the French national anthem when the two countries met in the Turkish city of Konya in June, which ended in a surprise 2-0 win for Turkey.

Deschamps urged his players to keep their focus on the pitch.

"The geopolitical problems exist. Will that have consequences? It's bound to in the context of the match, but we're not going to think about it," Deschamps said on Sunday.

"We're in a sporting realm, a football match in a football stadium, and we're going to make sure we stay focused on it."

Turkey coach Gunes said: "I don't want to make any political declarations, but our children could be these soldiers.

"I don't want there to be any deaths. I don't want these debates to override the match. We encourage our soldiers but I'm against any sort of violence.

"But whatever the result I hope the two teams will congratulate each other, not just on the pitch but in the stands. In doing so we are contributing to world peace."

Turkey and France are level on 18 points with three games to go in qualifying but the former top Group H after the defeat in Konya.

Turkey could also secure a finals place with victory, or possibly a draw in Paris, but only if Iceland slip up at home to rank outsiders Andorra.

France will again be missing injured star trio Hugo Lloris, Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba, and will be hoping Barcelona forward Antoine Griezmann can rediscover his sharpness in front of goal.